Today on the podcast, we'll be talking about social media policies – both your personal and professional social media policy in the era of COVID-19.
Many physicians and many of my colleagues are being increasingly active online, either through their own blogs or social media platforms.
Whatever digital platform you're using, many are being approached by others to do a guest blog or to give an interview. As physicians, many of us are being asked to provide interviews and information to major media, but many of us don't have formal media training.
Also, increasingly, doctors on social media are getting into trouble with their employers because of COVID-19 related posts and interviews.
Some doctors and nurses are getting fired, threatened, or otherwise reprimanded. I’m not going to comment on the legality or ethics of those cases, as I’m not an attorney. I, however, hope this podcast will help you do your own homework and make smart decisions about how to represent yourself online.
In This Episode of The Career Rx We’ll Discuss:
Tips for doctors when engaging online during the COVID-19 crisis. These include:
- Understanding your employer’s detailed social media policy so you can act accordingly
- Remaining consistent with your professional brand in all communications
- Developing your messaging strategy in advance
- Including disclaimers/disclosures in your communications
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TRANSCRIPT AND SHOW NOTES
Hey there friends! Welcome to The Career Prescription podcast (aka The Career Rx). I’m your host Marjorie Stiegler.
Today on the podcast, we'll be talking about social media policy, plus your personal and professional social media policy in the era of COVID-19.
Many physicians and many of my colleagues are being increasingly active online, either through their own blogs or social media platforms.
So, let’s talk about how to represent yourself online in a way that is effective professionally and safe for you.
I’ll be sharing four tips for engaging online and on social media. This will help you when:
- Speaking out with your expertise.
- Representing yourself as a thought leader.
- Helping the public to understand what's going on.
- Helping to shape health care policy and response to this very important health care crisis.
4 Tips For Doctor’s When Engaging Online During the COVID-19 Outbreak
1. Know Your Employers Social Media Policy
First, it's important for you to know the social media policy of your employer, your partners or any other organizations with which you are affiliated.
These policies will vary, but they’ll have a lot of commonalities.
Almost all policies focus on professional behavior and conduct. This ensures you don't do something that could embarrass or reflect poorly on that institution.
Organizations will usually have one of two views on engaging with media or sharing information on social media:
1. Some organizations will want you to explicitly state your affiliation. They'll want you to have a disclaimer that your views are your own and you are not speaking on behalf of the organization or group.
If you do behave in a way that is embarrassing or undermines the credibility of your employer partners, that disclaimer doesn't entirely protect you. It's often something that is part of the policy.
2. Some employers/organizations will want you NOT to identify or affiliate yourself to the organization at all.
They don't want your bio or your conversations to indicate that you are employed or work at any given place. They would rather you just not include this information.
This is why it's important to understand the policy so you know what you need to do.
- Identify your affiliation AND disclaim speaking for them, or
- Remain silent on your affiliation.
Obviously, it’s not that hard to find out where you work, so the rest of the policy still applies, as do the rest of the tips in this podcast.
Other tenants in the policy will usually reflect:
- To behave with a high degree of professionalism.
- That you do not speak ill of your employer/institution or your colleagues.
- You respect HIPPA and not disclose patient information.
- You do not misrepresent yourself as a spokesperson unless indeed you are.
So, you want to be clear that you know the policy and you know your contract.
Just have eyes open about the organization's expectation of how you will conduct yourself online.
It’s also possible to have a job and a highly visible social media presence as a private citizen. This is important to understand how that might be affected by policies or by contracts.
2. Consider your Professionalism and your Professional brand.
Even if there's nothing against a policy that prevents you from speaking out in a certain way, you’ll still want to be mindful of how you're representing yourself. This trail of you as a professional is going to become established, persist and be available forever in some way.
Want to speak out about education, advocacy, etc? Be sure that it's consistent with how you would represent yourself professionally.
This is true now, while the pandemic is happening, and it will be true later, for the rest of your career.
Let’s say, for example, say you were looking for a new job. (I’m hearing a LOT of clinicians talking about switching to nonclinical careers now, because of the unsafe and unfair treatment they feel doctors are getting with COVID-19.)
If someone Googles your name you'll want to make sure they’ll be impressed with what they find. The goal is to be seen as a rational, evidence-based thought leader who is also highly respected and in good standing at their institution.
You don’t want to be seen as someone who is speaking ill of their institution as, of course, no subsequent institution will want much to do with you if they feel like your professionalism is lacking in tone.
You also want to give careful consideration to your professional brand.
For some, their career is built around education, while others built around advocacy.
If your career is generally not aligned in these areas, then it may not be the right place for you to be sharing your thoughts about the pandemic response on social media or on your digital platform, as you'll be deviating from your professional brand.
As an example, for those who follow this podcast or my blog, you'll understand that for me, this is a little bit tricky.
I know that right now everyone is immersed completely in COVID-19.
I also have some strong opinions about it and I see things I want to advocate about but in general, my podcast and my blog about career development and digital strategy. Have you signed up for the free 5-day digital strategy email course?
So, I am trying to make sure that I provide information to you, my audience that will feel relevant to you, but that is also timely and keeping up with the news.
You'll likely not hear me deviating into something that's deeply clinical around COVID-19 because that's not consistent with what I do professionally.
This doesn’t represent my professional brand. On the other hand, I am speaking out about COVID-related topics that are reflective of what I think my audience would like to hear from me (keep those questions coming!).
Now, if you haven't given much thought to your professional brand, now is a really good time to do this.
Resources to Help you Think about Your Career & Professional Branding.
- The Fastest Way for Doctors to Build a Stellar Online Presence – Episode 2
- How to Amplify Your Thought Leadership with Content Syndication – Episode 8
- Check out my free webinar on Professional Branding
- Get my free e-Book Professional Branding 101
- Take a deep dive into branding to boost your career or grow your physician side gig with The Branding Rx course
Your professional branding needs to be carried through with everything you do… On social media, and digital platforms.
In these times of temporary news and noteworthy events, there still needs to be consistency in terms of who you are, where your area of expertise is, who you intend to help and what you intend to do.
3. Think About Your Messaging in Advance
If there's something you feel strongly about educating around or advocating for or against, you want to think about your messaging in terms of:
- Your target audience – the person you're hoping will listen
- Your purpose – what you are hoping the audience will do with what they hear
If you think about these two things in advance, you can then create language you can repeat on a regular basis across a variety of platforms.
By having your messaging strategy determined in advance, you won't be coming up with this language on the fly.
This is especially important in media training. You will likely be edited and will have a short amount of time to communicate your key ideas.
Think in advance about your messaging. Who do you hope to reach so you use the right words that will resonate with them? Also, make sure to use the right platforms to connect with your audience.
Make sure your purpose is clear.
Also, keep this in mind:
- Describing a problem alone isn’t helpful. It's important to include a call to action or a solution with your consistent messaging.
- Planning your messaging and language upfront means you're more likely to be consistent and to avoid saying something you wish you could take back.
- Since everything online is considered to be permanent and public, anything you say (even in private groups) could be seen by anyone.
Therefore, represent yourself as a professional all the time. Be consistent with your professional brand and consistent with any applicability, contracts or policies from your partner's organizations that you are affiliated with.
4. Include Disclaimers and/or Disclosures
In tip number one, we talked about policies. Part of that is knowing whether or not to make an overt disclosure that you have an affiliation with that group. Some will want you to do that, some won’t.
Either way, organizations will likely want you to say that you speak only for yourself, so you do want to be sure that you have your disclaimers correct.
Disclosures: Conflicts of Interest (Real or Perceived)
Also, make sure that anything you're saying that has perceived conflict of interest for you financially, needs to be disclaimed and or disclosed. This would be the same as if you were giving a grand rounds or some other sort of traditional talk.
How would that come into play during the COVID-19 crisis? This may not applicable for most people's sets of circumstances, but if, for example:
Let’s say you receive consulting money or research grant funding from pharmaceutical companies who are looking into vaccines or treatments. If talking about those treatments, it's important (even if it's not related to your relationship) that you disclose this relationship.
This is just good ethics and applies to social media as well.
It's also important to keep an eye out for what I call opportunities to catch and correct.
This is because social media is often moving quickly in fast conversations on brief platforms where either you're going live on video or audio, or you’re chatting quickly back and forth.
Say, for example, on Twitter you say something that is taken out of context. It doesn't exactly represent what you think, feel or what you mean.
If this happens and a conversation begins to build around this, you'll want to be aware and go back right away to delete, if you can. (Remember, this still might be permanent, as people can take screenshots and share your post before you delete it.)
You may not be able to, or might not want to, and in that case, you can make a statement that says, “This isn't what I meant, instead, what I meant is this…”, with the correction.
If you have failed to disclose properly, you want to go back and do that. It's always best to have done this upfront. Remember though, you should still be vigilant to catch and correct anything that people may not understand or that you didn't communicate what you intended.
I have a future episode dedicated entirely to disclaimers, disclosures and conflicts, so please stay tuned for it. This is a topic I get a lot of questions about and it’s really important in the growing era of the online thought leader.
You need to have a clear understanding of your moral/ethical obligations and your professional obligations, but also with the FDA, Federal Trade Commission and other regulatory bodies.
Doctor’s Online Engagement Tips During the COVID-19 Crisis: Recap
- Know your organization's/employer’s policies about how you communicate online and with the media.
- Be professional in your communications and ensure the topics you discuss align with your professional brand.
- Give thought in advance to your messaging, your target audience, plus have a clear purpose in mind. Have specific language that helps get your message across precisely.
- Have the appropriate disclaimers, disclosures or other conflicts of interest made explicit in any of your materials, plus catch and correct where needed.
In a time like this, with the COVID-19 pandemic on everyone's mind, I would love to hear from you.
What questions do you have? What kind of content related to your professional development, career, well being and success as a physician that I can answer for you on The Career Rx?
Thanks for joining me on this episode of The Career Rx Podcast!
Please be sure to subscribe and leave me a review on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast or whatever podcast player you’re using to listen today. Also, be sure to send me your questions so that I can answer them and give you a shout out on a future episode.
Bye for now,
Related articles about COVID-19:
- Choice and Power During the COVID-19 Crisis – Ep. 10
- Work from Home Tips During the COVID-19 Pandemic – Ep. 11
- No Emergency in a Pandemic? COVID-19 Reflections – Ep. 12